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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

What an album cover! I don't know about you, but it drew me in as much as Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual did when released in 1989. In many respects, the cover art is an essential element as an album is often seen before it is heard. In that regard, Animal certainly creates a shock to the nervous system, engraining the imagery in one's subconscious. While the artwork may be a little confronting, it’s representative of only a single aspect of Big Scary; a dynamic Melbourne-based musical duo.

While I know very little about Big Scary, other than adoring Animal, their digital liner notes explain the artistic intent far more thoroughly than I could ever attempt to. However, if I were to summarise their intent, the concept that we can transcend our animal instincts and rise above the animal within is brilliant. Subsequently, Animal takes us on a sonic journey that is philosophically evolutionary.

Animal was also produced with vinyl in mind as each side of the double LP is perceived as its own self-contained entity, to be enjoyed independently or as part of a larger masterpiece. While this review will be based on the Apple Music stream, I'm keenly interested in getting my hands on the vinyl release as this aspect is a value-added proposition for the music lover and collector within. As I think further about this somewhat unique approach, I’m reminded of my beloved Sigur Rós – () album and how they approached the vinyl release in a similar manner. It’s wonderful to see independent artists thinking differently, not only about their musicality but how their music will be delivered to listeners. While part of the artistic intent was to allow the listener to play the album in a non-traditional chronological order, for simplicity, this review will focus on Animal with the same chronological tracking as seen on the following Apple Music stream.

Oxygen opens the album with a very raw drum beat that harks to the core animal status within us all. The electronic rhythm, while sonically dry, is extremely compelling. It's a great start to the album and I was hooked from the very first note.

Organism gets the body moving. The soundstage is diverse and layered, resulting in a song that is larger than the sum of its parts. Every aspect of Organism is perfect and it amazes me that music this good is made by an independent artist. I say that because Organism, and the entire album, sounds better than many big label/artist releases.

Double Darkness continues the somewhat sombre tones, but I love it! That vocal placement and delivery is sublime, reminding me of many Paul McCartney recordings.

Savior Add Vice seamlessly transitions from Double Darkness. Even the shift, a third of the way through, is done masterfully. Although, I don't like the vocal direction as much on this song as I feel the vocal is lost in the mix. That may, of course, have been the intent, and if so then the vocal becomes merely another sonic element in the soundstage.

Lone Bird is a killer song with an absolutely perfect rhythm and composition. This is what good music should sound like!

The Endless Story sees the album becoming increasingly upbeat and I don't know about you, but that rhythm sounds awfully familiar. Regardless, it’s a solid song that is thoroughly enjoyable. The vocal echo, normally a distractive element, works really well here, although the distortion in places is a little more in-your-face than I’d prefer.

Flutism suits the album but isn't really a track I connect with. I can't honestly say why it doesn't resonate with me as it isn't inherently bad, but all I know is it’s a little too left of the center for me.

Up And Up And Up is addictively brilliant!

Breathe Underwater slows the album down considerably. While it may feel a little disjointed to those of us streaming Animal, Breathe Underwater is the first song of the Resting element of the album. The other elements include, for the first four songs, Hunting, the next four, Lurking, and the final two Waking. Nevertheless, Breathe Underwater is a beautifully mellow song.

The Opposite Of Us continues the Resting phase of the album and for some reason, when I listen to this song, I ponder of what a U2/Bono and Alanis Morissette mashup would be like. Yes, dear reader, my mind is subjectively unique and even I have no idea where these correlations come from. Anyway, The Opposite Of Us is a beautiful song and is a perfect fit for the album.

Heaven On Earth is atmospherically stunning. I can only imagine how exceptional it would sound on vinyl, for the Apple Music stream is already magical.

Over Matter has a little too much volume and channel variation that I find to be rather distracting. Even the vocal delivery pace isn’t in harmony with the songs that came before it, resulting in a bit of a garbled mess.

Lamina is a great song to close the album with. The moody tones are reminiscent of the opening tracks and it is so good that I feel compelled to listen to Animal again and delve deeper into the modest back catalogue of Big Scary.

Overall, Animal is a compellingly addictive album that I thoroughly enjoy and will have to pick up on vinyl.

Animal is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Animal is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Kaleo - A/B (Album Review)

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Kaleo - A/B (Album Review)

When released in 2016, Kaleo's A/B left listeners in shock and awe as they proved, as many artists do, that good music is still being made that pushes the envelope of what has come before while remaining uniquely unique.

If you like Folk music, with a splash of Blues, and some killer Rock & Roll riffs, then you are going to love this album. It is so good that I give you permission to stop reading this review while you check out one of the best albums of 2016 and what would be one of my all-time favourite albums in the aforementioned genres.

No Good is already a classic in my mind. It sets the tone for the album and has some killer riffs, beats, and a solid vocal delivery perfectly suited to the song. Yes, this song is your meat and potatoes Rock & Roll but it would work equally well in the local pub as well as a major stadium. No wonder Kaleo opened for The Rolling Stones when they toured Hamburg in 2017.

Way Down We Go slows the album down a little, but it is simply gorgeous! The vocal delivery is off the charts and the bass and drum beats will have you in Rhythm & Blues heaven. This is one song you may have heard before as it has been featured in a number of high profile television shows and films.

Broken Bones is sublime!

Glass House returns the tempo to a higher pace. It is classic Blues-based Rock & Roll and there is nothing wrong with that!

Hot Blood is a great rock tune. It is rock solid, pun intended!

All The Pretty Girls is a slower tune that has a very interesting vocal presentation, in comparison to the other songs on the album. That said, it works extremely well. It just goes to show the level of musicality that is present within the band, even at this early stage in their career.

Automobile is an incredibly catchy tune. I love it!

Vor í Vaglaskógi is sonic perfection! While it is the only non-English song on the album, the vocal delivery is velvety smooth and is an absolute pleasure to listen to. The musicality is equally off the charts. It’s such a beautiful song and I do hope that Kaleo will one day release an entire album in their native Icelandic tongue.

Save Yourself is a lovely song. Nothing to write home about, but solid nonetheless. The album wouldn't be the same without it.

I Can't Go On Without You closes the album beautifully. It is an incredible song that makes me want to listen to the album again.

From start to finish, Kaleo’s A/B is nothing short of pure perfection. The album plays better than many greatest hits releases, yet it is a debut. There truly isn't a bad song on this album. It is so good that I have already ordered my Vinyl copy from mataurecords.com.au.

This review was based on listening to the 16/44.1 kHz CD-quality FLAC release on TIDAL Hi-Fi. I also listened to the 24/88.2kHz MQA version and while I found it to be a little tighter in the bass region, I didn't find the difference to be significant enough to recommend it over the standard CD-quality offering. That isn't a bad thing, it just proves that if a CD is mastered well it can sound just as good as any high-res source. In fact, I prefer the CD equivalent as the bass, while more refined in the MQA edition, is too clean and lacks the grit that I feel should be present in this style of music.

A/B is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, A/B is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Have you ever come across an album that you love to hate? Well, Foxygen’s …And Star Power is just that as I am continuously torn over my interest in the album. While I thoroughly enjoy many of the tracks on this album, there are some that just defy all logic. In many ways, I feel that this album is perfectly suited for digital delivery, in any digital format, as there are songs that I would simply prefer to bypass with the tap of a button. That said, I still find myself in a quandary as to whether or not I should purchase the vinyl edition. I honestly don’t think I have ever been so torn over the appreciation of an album.

Before we begin with the individual song overview, I want to acknowledge how much I appreciate the album artwork. I feel in many ways that this presentation deserves to be owned on vinyl. The frame as a window into another world is exceptional. Besides a vinyl release, Foxygen have also released the album on cassette. It is packaged in a double cassette case that reminds me of the copy of Elton John’s The Very Best Of Elton John I owned in the 90s. While that album is long out of print, it was reissued by Universal on vinyl a couple of years ago and I was able to secure a copy. If you only purchase one Elton John album, make it that one as it is exceptional and truly highlights his career. I would love to see cassettes to return, just as vinyl has, but I will be content to have a small collection by alternative artists that choose to use the format for artistic purposes.

Foxygen’s style is true indi-rock and very alternative. They have a truly unique sound and with all the listening I have done in my life, I don’t believe that any band has perplexed me as much as Foxygen. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs and see if I will indeed end up purchasing the vinyl edition.

Star Power Airlines has a highly distorted introduction that reminds me of any garage-style band from the late 60s and early 70s. It is a confusing song that is very short and I’m not sure if I like it, but it intrigues me enough to keep listening.

How Can You Really is a pop-infused 70s-style track with a uniquely modern style. The beat is addictive and it would be fair to say that I thoroughly enjoy this track. It is toe tapping and head bopping bliss.

Coulda Been My Love is an absolutely gorgeous song that has harmonious vocal elements overlayed against a core piano backing. The mix of these elements, and the pop-infusion, makes this song very appealing. When I listen to this song, I immediately think of Motown records in the 70s due to the styling applied. It is exceptional, although the ending spoken/radio-esk element is distracting and a little overkill.

Cosmic Vibrations is an exceptional song that is so simple, yet so multi-layered that you will find new elements within the song every time you listen. It has a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds moody feel to it. I simply love this song!

You & I is a song that makes me think of John and Julian Lennon and their vocal styles. It is a lovely song that I truly enjoy listening to.

Star Power I: Overture has a beat and style that makes me want to turn the volume up to 11 so that I can be completely encased in this experimental sonic wonderland.

Star Power II: Star Power Nite returns to the chaos that was first experienced on Star Power Airlines. It is very erratic and I find my mind is confused with regards to how to react to the music.

Star Power III: What Are We Good For is similarly confusing in its musicality. I simply don’t enjoy the entrance to this track and the chorus is just weird. Although, the song does get better throughout, but your body really doesn’t know how to respond to what it’s hearing. This is a indi/alternative style that I can respect, but I’ve never truly understood.

Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh has some lovely vocal harmonies that remove the stigma of the last two tracks. That said, the styling of this song is different, but I like it!

I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate is a song that I am simply unsure about. I like elements of the song, but there are also elements that I don’t appreciate. The musical elements in the second half of the song are really appealing, but the vocal distortion is a real distraction to my mind. That said, I truly think this is one of those songs that will grow on me.

Mattress Warehouse has an addictive beat that will get your body moving. It is unlike any song I have heard before and that is a testament to the uniqueness of Foxygen. It is also one of the reasons why I keep returning to this album, despite my love/hate relationship with it. In all honesty, this song is likely my favourite track on the album.

666 is quite an interesting track that could be classed as punk-pop in styling. It is a fun song that works well with the flow of the album.

Flowers is a song that I consider to be Beatles-esk. It just has that experimental sound and beat that is addictive and intriguing at the same time. I love it!

Wally’s Farm reminds me of a b-grade movie soundtrack. Believe it or not, that is a compliment!

Cannibal Holocaust is a song that I just can’t find the groove to. The vocals are very distant in the mix and while this is most likely intentional, I’m not sure it works. Interestingly, an enjoyable groove becomes apparent midway through the song, but by that stage I am a little shell shocked and expect it to return to the previous confused state at any moment.

Hot Summer is a song I really enjoy. The sonic elements just work.

Cold Winter/Freedom has an eerie intro. In-fact, the entire song really doesn’t go beyond the introduction. The music reminds me of a record being played backwards, in search of the hidden meaning. It is enjoyable in a weird way that I simply cannot explain in words. Then, as many of Foxgen’s songs do, the song changes pace and purpose midway through the track. It is certainly an interesting dichotomy.

Can’t Contextualize My Mind reminds me of early Rolling Stones stuff, pre-Sympathy For The Devil. I like it! Although, the ending is a high screeching nightmare.

Brooklyn Police Station is a song that I like, but I’m not really sure what the appeal of it is. Although, it could be said that sometimes not knowing can be a good thing and one need not always understand music to enjoy it. That is certainly the case with regards to this song.

The Game is somewhat in the same category of appreciation as the song Brooklyn Police Station.

Freedom II has a groovy beat but the lyrical overlay is distracting. As an instrumental track, I feel it would be epic. Although, I love the vocal delivery in the final moments of the song.

Talk begins with a beautiful guitar introduction before all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, it is a song that I don’t enjoy as my senses have been jolted by the sharp change in musical direction. The entrance to the track was just enough to get into a groove and the abrupt change was just cruel to listener.

Everyone Needs Love is incredibly soothing after Talk. My mind wants to relax and enjoy, but I am scared that the musical direction will change again and therefore I’m not letting myself become as immersed in the song as I would like. That said, it is an enjoyable song with a good beat that for some reason makes me think of Bobby Womack.

Hang is a good song to end the album on. It isn’t too left of the centre and is sombre enough to bring the album to a non-abrupt end–well, that’s if you ignore the final ten seconds.

...And Star Power is an intriguing album from start to finish, but I find it to be extremely fatiguing. By the time I have reached the end of the 80-minute album, I’m mentally exhausted and I find that I don’t want to listen to any music for a while, or repeat the album. Sometimes this feeling can be attributed to the mastering, but in this case I feel the mastering is excellent. I feel it is the constant change in musicality that is the reason behind the fatigue. That said, if the album was half the length, I feel I would have a very different opinion. It is important to note that the album is somewhat divided into four unique sections, but unfortunately that separation did not make it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and TIDAL merely represents the album as a 24-track epic.

I also can’t help but wonder how the high-pitched elements would be presented on vinyl as I find digital music can often amplify the highs in music to ear piecing levels. As vinyl mastering is rather stringent, I would assume it could rein in some of these wild elements.

Overall, I find Foxygen’s …And Star Power to be an album, with a series of songs, that I thoroughly enjoy. Is it worth adding this album to my vinyl collection? I believe so. In-fact, the vinyl release could be beneficial with regards to the fatigue aspect as I can play the album one side at a time. I also feel that the album could be played in any order, similar to how I appreciate Sigur Rós album ().

…And Star Power is available for purchase on Vinyl, cassette, and CD. It is also available for purchase digitally via iTunes and the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music.

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